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Hiker clinging to ledge saved by deputy in dramatic rescue

August 1, 2012 | 10:38 am

Rescue DL (5)This post has been corrected. Please see note below.

A Fresno County sheriff's deputy's gravity-defying sprint saved a hiker who was losing his grip on a ledge of a Sierra peak.  

"In five years with search and rescue and 30 years as a paramedic, it was the most dramatic rescue I've ever seen," said Russ Richardson, leader of the Fresno County Search and Rescue Mountaineering Team. "It was pretty heroic."

Lawrence Bishop was sure he was living the last moments of his life just before the rescue, he recalled Tuesday. A wrong turn and a couple of brutal falls had left him clinging for two nights and two days to the side of Dog Tooth Peak, where nature has polished the granite to a glass-like sheen.

"'How much do you want to live?' is a question I'd never really asked myself. But all I'd thought of for two days and two nights from every angle, every minute, was how do I live? I really want to live," said Bishop, 64, a retired hazardous-waste specialist with Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

But by late Saturday afternoon, his latest hallucination was a giant clock — and it was ticking back to zero. His leg, which was keeping him propped on a small outcropping, was trembling. His body was starting to slide toward the 45-degree slope that led hundreds of feet downward — a fall he would be unlikely to survive.

"I was quivering; I couldn't hold on any longer. Then I saw five to six guys below in orange, and there was a surge of adrenaline from hope. I tried to grasp the rock."

David Rippe, a detective with the Fresno County Sheriffs Department and a member of the department's search and rescue team, heard a moan. He looked up and could make out Bishop's trembling foot and slow slide.

He sprinted about 300 feet up rock that most people could not stand on without slipping.

"This guy would put mountain goats to shame; he just runs up," said Bishop, his voice suddenly cracking. "I'm sorry, when I get to this part I fall apart every time. He just runs up and he puts his hand on me and he pushes me back into the rock."

Rippe, 30, agreed to tell the story only if credit was given to Richardson's all-volunteer rescue team: "They're on their own dime, their own time. They're amazing."

He describes his death-defying climb without ropes or equipment only as "a little bit sketchy."

"I wasn't focused on the climbing. I was focused on him. I saw Larry on the ledge and I saw he was starting to fall."

Days later, Rippe is still incredulous at the timing. "I keep replaying it in my head. I can't believe it was that close. It's amazing."

[For the record, 11:10 a.m. Aug. 1: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Dog Tooth Peak as Dogwood Peak. It is located in the Sierra National Forest.]


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Photo: A Fresno County rescue team helps grab a hiker, who was clinging to a ledge near Dog Tooth Peak. Credit: Fresno County Sheriff's Department